25 Best Sports Memories

By Keith Morehouse

It was 1989 – a quarter of a century ago – when Huntington Quarterly went to print for the first time. Plenty has unfolded in the world of sports over those 25 years in our fine city and it’s impossible to recount it all here, but because we like lists and rankings – all wrapped up in a neat little package – we thought we’d go for a stroll through the sports time machine. The criterion – the event or the athlete had to have a connection to Huntington. There is no order of importance to one event over another. We don’t assign any athlete a level of greatness above or below anybody else, and we make no promise that we’ve got it all covered. But here’s our shot at it, from 1989 to now. Enjoy. 

Play Ball! 1990

This was the year professional baseball returned to Huntington in the form of the Huntington Cubs. The Cubs were a rookie team in the Appalachian League that played their games at St. Cloud Commons. The Cubs, under manager Steve Roadcap, posted a 40-29 record that first year. Included on the roster was a light-hitting outfielder by the name of Jason Sehorn, who hit much better as a safety in his NFL career with the New York Giants. Tommy Helms Jr. followed his father and former Reds star Tommy Helms into pro baseball. Amaury Telemaco was one of the Cubs that made it to the big leagues with Chicago. However, after four years, the Cubs stint at St. Clouds was over.

Field of Dreams 1991

The old neighborhood ballpark stood at the corner of Columbia Avenue and 14th Street since the 1928 football season. Marshall beat Fairmont State in the first game 27-0. The Herd’s final game there was a 15-12 loss to Eastern Kentucky, capping off decades of so many games and so many memories. Perhaps none was bigger than Marshall’s 15-13 win over Xavier on Sept. 25, 1971. It was Marshall’s first win after the devastating plane crash of 1970 and arguably Marshall’s most important win in program history.

It was a spectacular late summer day when Marshall hosted New Hampshire in its first ever game at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Fans set a new attendance record at 33,116 as Marshall beat New Hampshire 24-23 that day. The Herd has built up quite a home-field advantage in the 23 years since the stadium opened. Marshall’s record at the “Joan” – 118 wins, 19 losses.

The National Championship 1992

Some strange events happened on Marshall’s way to its first ever football national championship. A kicker got suspended and his brother took his place, two of the team’s best defenders left the game with injuries and the Herd squandered a 28-0 lead over Youngstown State. The Penguins had stormed back behind running back Tamron Smith. Herd linebacker William King couldn’t help. He was taken out of the game on a stretcher after sustaining a neck injury, but he returned late in the second half to watch from the sidelines. Quarterback Michael Payton engineered the game-winning drive to put the Herd in field goal range. Willy Merrick, subbing for brother David, kicked his one, and only, college field goal with just seconds left. The call from CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz was short but sweet. “Merrick, yes!” Marshall fans tore down the goal posts, carried them out of the stadium and celebrated long into the night.

The Blizzard Hits 1993

Professional hockey was back in Huntington for the first time since the Huntington Hornets were skating around Veterans Memorial Field House back in the mid-’50s. This time the Huntington Blizzard occupied the Big Sandy Superstore Arena playing as a member of the East Coast Hockey League. Several Blizzard stars like Jim Bermingham and Van Burgess became crowd favorites in Huntington. The Blizzard gave sports fans a fast-paced, physical sport to watch up close and personal. It was fun while it lasted. The franchise folded after eight seasons.

Shades of Green 1994

The 1994 Solheim Cup came to The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It’s the women’s professional golf equivalent of the Ryder Cup, which was also played at The Greenbrier in 1979. There was a shade of green on the team for the red, white and blue. Marshall golfer Tammie Green, who already owned a major championship on the LPGA Tour, was on the star-studded American team. Green holed a long birdie putt on the 16th hole in the singles matches on Sunday to beat Annika Sorenstam – one of the greatest female golfers ever – 3 and 2 to help the United States beat Europe 13-7.

The Coaching Carousel 1995

Marshall’s football program was in the market for a new coach when Jim Donnan accepted the Georgia head coaching job after the 1995 season. Under Donnan, Marshall was 64-21 in six seasons. His ’92 team won the NCAA Division I-AA national championship, and he was twice voted the “National Coach” of the Year. He’s also been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Bob Pruett completed a career end-around when he returned to his alma mater in 1996 to become head coach of the Thundering Herd. Pruett came from the University of Florida, where he was defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier. Pruett led the Herd to the 1996 NCAA Division I-AA national championship as the Herd finished the season 15-0. Many considered the ’96 squad to be the greatest I-AA team of all time.

Moss Mania at Marshall 1996

Marshall’s final season in Division I-AA was given a superstar-like boost as former Dupont star Randy Moss decided to play his college football at Marshall for new coach Bob Pruett. He had originally signed with Notre Dame where, Irish Head Coach Lou Holtz called him “the best high school player I’ve ever seen.” A phenomenal athlete, Moss was both Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in West Virginia as a high schooler. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver electrified football fans throughout the region with his world-class speed and leaping ability. Moss led the Thundering Herd to a perfect 15-0 season and the program’s second national championship. Along the way, Moss caught 28 touchdown passes and tied NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for a national collegiate record at the time.

Hurryin’ Hal Greer
Honored 1996

He grew up playing basketball on the playgrounds of Huntington and capped his stellar career by being voted one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996. Hal Greer played his high school ball at Douglass High School and then moved a few blocks north to play collegiately at Marshall. He became the first African-American to be awarded a college scholarship at Marshall. After a standout career with the Thundering Herd, he was drafted 13th overall by the Syracuse Nationals in 1958. He would later star for Philadelphia, where he helped lead the 76ers to the NBA title, with Wilt Chamberlain, in 1967. Greer was a 10-time NBA All-Star and the leading scorer in 76ers history. In 1982 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His jerseys at Marshall, No. 16, and Philadelphia, No. 15, have been retired. One of Huntington’s main arteries, which runs from the I-64 exit down past Marshall’s campus, bears the name “Hal Greer Boulevard.

Back with the Big Boys 1997

Marshall’s football team earned its first bowl bid since the 1946 Tangerine Bowl after the 1997 regular season. Marshall started the season with its first meeting against West Virginia University since the 1923 season. WVU jumped out to a 28-10 halftime lead, but the Herd stormed back in the third quarter and scored the game’s next 21 points to take the lead 31-28. WVU outlasted Marshall 42-31. The Thundering Herd found much success that season behind quarterback Chad Pennington and Heisman Trophy finalist Randy Moss. Marshall won the Mid- American Conference Championship and received a berth in the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, Michigan.

Reed’s an All-Star 1998

Former Huntington High and Marshall pitcher Rich Reed reached the pinnacle of Major League Baseball when he was named to the National League All-Star team for the first time in 1998. He posted a record of 16-11 for the New York Mets and was again named to the All-Star team in 2001. For his career, Reed was 93-76 with a 4.03 earned run average.

The Thunder Rolls 1998-99

Marshall’s football team made its second straight trek to the Motor City Bowl, and this time the Herd returned with a win. Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington threw for 411 yards and four touchdowns to win the game MVP award as the Herd beat Louisville and its highly regarded quarterback Chris Redman 48-29. Marshall finished 12-1 and capped off the year with its first ever bowl victory.

Building on a 12-1 record from the season before, what could Pennington and the Herd do for an encore? The Herd had designs on an undefeated season, and that’s exactly what unfolded. Marshall went into Death Valley (Clemson Memorial Stadium) and beat the Tigers 13-10 in the first game of the season to start off a memorable year. In December in the MAC Championship game, Pennington cemented his legacy by leading the Herd back from a 24-7 deficit to beat Western Michigan on a last second touchdown pass. Pennington rolled out on third down and hit tight end Eric Pinkerton for the game-winning score. Marshall then dominated No. 25 Brigham Young 21-3 in another Motor City Bowl appearance. Running back Doug Chapman was the game MVP. The Herd finished the season undefeated and ranked 10th in the country, its highest ever national ranking. For the second time in three years, Marshall had a representative at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Chad Pennington joined winner Ron Dayne, Drew Brees, Michael Vick and Joe Hamilton as finalists. Pennington would parlay his college success to the NFL, where he was drafted 18th overall by the New York Jets in the 2000 NFL draft.

2001 Patriot Games

What a year former Marshall All-American Troy Brown had in 2001. After being drafted by New England in 1993, Brown had to work every year to keep his spot on the team. His ninth year in the NFL proved to be one of his best. Brown, playing with future NFL Hall of Famer Tom Brady, helped the Patriots to its first ever Super Bowl championship. He caught a franchise record 101 passes for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns. He also made the Pro Bowl team. Brown would go on to win two more Super Bowl rings. To this day, the Blackville, South Carolina native lives in Huntington. He’s been inducted into the Marshall and New England Patriots Halls of Fame.

Miracle in Mobile 2001

Marshall ended another successful football season with a bowl win for the ages in Mobile, Alabama. Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich helped the Herd to the biggest bowl game comeback ever at the time. East Carolina led the Herd 38-8 at halftime of the GMAC Bowl. But Leftwich was just warming up. He threw for 576 yards and four touchdowns and ran in for a touchdown as the Herd beat the Pirates 64-61 in double overtime. It remains the highest-scoring bowl game in college football history.

Parsley Shines with Silver 2002

Former Marshall basketball player and track and field athlete Lea Ann Parsley changed sports and nearly turned it to gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Parsley began the Games by being one of eight athletes to carry the World Trade Center flag into the opening ceremonies commemorating the tragedy on 9/11. She then won a silver medal in the women’s skeleton event, a first in American Olympic history in that event.

Leftwich Carries the Day 2002

It’s been called one of the most courageous moments in all of sports. Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich suffered a broken leg in the Rubber Bowl against the Akron Zips. He then took a trip to the hospital, came back to the stadium and convinced Coach Bob Pruett to allow him to return to the game. After completing a long pass to Darius Watts, a hobbled Leftwich could not catch up to his teammates in time to get off a play. So, his offensive linemen, Steven Peretta and Steve Sciullo, carried him down the field for the next play. Although Leftwich could not lead Marshall back from a 34-20 deficit, the highlight became one of the enduring images in the legend of Leftwich at Marshall.

A Wimbledon Run to Remember 2002

Huntington tennis star Jeff Morrison had a summer to remember in 2002. The former University of Florida star had won the 1999 NCAA Singles Championship, beating James Blake of Harvard. In 2002, he put together a memorable run at Wimbledon, advancing to the third round, and was the last American left in the tournament. He defeated future world No. 1 ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero en route to the third round in London. He’s a member of the University of Florida Athletics Hall of Fame.

Jack’s Tournament Honors Campbell 2003

He’s been called one of the greatest amateur golfers of his generation, and in 2003 Jack Nicklaus and his Memorial Tournament took notice. Bill Campbell was honored by the tournament, just one of a number of golfing accomplishments for the lifelong amateur golfer. He won the U.S. Amateur title in 1964. He won 15 West Virginia Amateur titles. He played in 15 U.S. Opens and 18 Masters tournaments. Campbell never lost a match in eight Walker Cup competitions, which is the amateur version of the Ryder Cup. He is one of only two people to become president of the United States Golf Association and captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, golf’s two governing bodies. Campbell passed away in 2013, and a bronze image of him greets golfers on the practice area at The Greenbrier.

Herd Makes History
in Manhattan 2003

On a bright, breezy September day in Manhattan, Kansas, Marshall pulled off the greatest upset in school history, defeating No. 6 Kansas State 27-20. Kansas State’s star quarterback Ell Roberson was out with an injury, but so was Marshall starter Stan Hill. Backup Graham Gochneaur threw two touchdown passes and Butchie Wallace ran for 112 yards as the Herd played keep-away from the Wildcats. The play of the game came from defensive end Jonathan Goddard. With K-State up 7-0 and driving toward another score, Goddard anticipated an option pitch from quarterback Jeff Schwinn, snatched it out of the air and ran 89 yards for the tying touchdown. Marshall won eight games that year but did not go to a bowl game for the first time since 1997. Kansas State went on to win the Big 12 Championship, dominating No. 1 Oklahoma 35-7.

Carter a Perfect 10 2004

Huntington’s Pat Carter’s incredible streak of consecutive West Virginia Amateur titles reached 10 straight, a national record, with his two-stroke win in the 2004 State Amateur. Carter has won 13 Amateur titles, two shy of the record 15 held by Bill Campbell. The former Marshall golfer also has participated in 32 United States Golf Association Championships.

The Dream Team 2006

Called by many the greatest team in West Virginia high school basketball history, the Huntington Highlanders rolled through the 2006 season on their way to a dominating state championship season. Huntington-born O.J. Mayo returned for his senior season and joined Patrick Patterson, Michael Taylor, Jamal Williams and Chris Early to form a potent starting lineup. The Highlanders finished 25-2 that year and were ranked No. 3 in the nation at the end of the season. The team played its games at the old Memorial Field House because its home gym was too small to accommodate the crowds. (The Highlanders also played nationally ranked DeMatha Catholic High School and St. Patrick’s High School at Marshall’s Cam Henderson Center.) The average margin of victory was 41 points a game, and they won the state championship over South Charleston by 42 points. Both Mayo and Patterson were McDonald’s All-Americans and first-round NBA draft picks.

D’Antoni NBA Coach of the Year 2006

Former Marshall star Mike D’Antoni’s around-the-world travels as a head coach landed him in Phoenix in 2002. He started off as an assistant with the Suns but took over the head coaching position in 2003. After Phoenix acquired Steve Nash, D’Antoni had the perfect point guard to run his pick-and-roll offense, an offense dubbed “seven seconds or less.” Not only was it the title of a book written by Jack McCallum on the Suns’ 2006 season, but it was also an apt description of the quick run-and-shoot style of D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy. Phoenix finished 62-20 that year, and D’Antoni was named the NBA Coach of the Year. He led the Suns to the Western Conference Finals two years in a row.

Williamson Pitches Herd to NCAA’S 2013

Tennessee’s loss was Marshall’s gain in 2011 when former Harts and Chapmanville star Andi Williamson transferred back to her home state of West Virginia to play softball for the Herd. Her father, Andy Paul, was a standout basketball player for the Herd in the ’80s, but Andi scripted her own legacy. In the 2013 season, she won 33 of Marshall’s 36 games and led the Herd to a win over Houston in the Conference USA Tournament. She then pitched Marshall through a tough bracket with a loss to Kentucky (2-1), a win over Notre Dame (3-1) and a 13-inning loss to Virginia Tech (3-2). She pitched all three games. After leaving Marshall, she took off on a professional softball career. You would get little argument by calling her the greatest softball pitcher in West Virginia state history.

Highlanders’ Big Season 2013

It was a season for the ages at Huntington High. The football team completed an unbeaten regular season but lost a heartbreaking 9-7 game to Martinsburg in the Class AAA Championship in Wheeling. The Highlanders wrestling team continued to make school history, completing a back-to-back run for a team state championship under Coach Rob Archer. The Highlanders basketball team capped off a fantastic season under Ron Hess by winning the state basketball championship with a thrilling 55-54 win over Hurricane.

Irish Eyes Smiling Again 2014

The Huntington St. Joseph’s girls basketball team finished up the most dominating six-year stretch in West Virginia girls basketball history. Behind Notre Dame signee Mychal Johnson and Charlotte signee sharpshooter Griffin Dempsey, the Lady Irish won a state record six straight state championships. That broke the previous record of five straight held by Summers County. The last loss to a team from West Virginia came in the 2008 state tournament game against Wheeling Central. The Lady Irish won 73 straight contests against teams from the Mountain State.

Wiggins Goes First 2014

Huntington Prep star Andrew Wiggins had a short but memorable two-year stay in Huntington as he put on highlight show after highlight show for the Huntington Prep Fighting Irish. Recruited by every marquee basketball school in the country, Wiggins played one year at Kansas before declaring for the NBA Draft. He was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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